Mary Skinner was hunkered down on the West Coast, reconsidering her 20-year career in New York, when she watched her colleagues in Two World Trade Center die on 911.
According to an article in More magazine:
But as the catastrophe unfolded, Skinner’s hesitation disappeared. “I knew friends were caught on certain floors and didn’t make it,” she says. “I felt: I need to be there right now. I’ve got to go back. I had devoted my talent, heart and brain cells to helping somebody make a little more money on currency arbitrage. In the face of what was going on in the world, I felt like, that’s a sin.”
Two months later, Skinner boarded a plane for New York – without a job or a place to live, and for the first time in her professional life, without a plan.
She found temp office work, reconnected with old friends and took writing classes. She enrolled in a documentary filmmaking class at the New School, wanting to make a film about her Polish-born, Catholic mother, Klotylda, who was orphaned and imprisoned during World War II and cared for by strangers afterwards. Klotylda wouldn’t agree to be her subject. Haunted by her mother’s experiences, Skinner continued with her research, uncovering more stories of children saved by heroic strangers.
I interviewed Mary here and here and here and here. She eventually went to make a movie about Holocaust heroine Irena Sendler, the PBS film In the Name of Their Mothers. The article gets it wrong: Sendler didn’t save hundreds of children; she saved thousands.
Skinner’s story has a happy ending:
The film’s reception was “beyond anything I could have imagined,” Skinner says. “But I didn’t feel elated. I was frayed, out of money and scared to death.” In the US, the film was rejected from film festival competitions (a DVD release in Poland broke conventional festival rules), but won multiple European prizes. Skinner started showing her film at churches, schools and libraries. The philanthropist Tad Taube, a major PBS donor, happened to attend one of the screenings and was so moved that he arranged for Skinner to meet with the head of programming at the local PBS affiliate. That day, Skinner came with a PowerPoint presentation, prepared to make the most important pitch of her life, but as she sat down with the station chief at a polished table surrounded by staffers, he said, “This is a powerful film. We want to ask you if you will allow us to take it national.” In the Name of Their Mothers had its U.S. debut on Sunday May 1, 2011, Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Now that’s a story we tell here.